Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026299, Thu, 16 Jul 2015 13:30:30 -0400

VN mentioned
VN is mentioned in this article from *NY* *Times *7/15/2015.
I'm unhappy about the way it's done. I didn't like the review overall
either. I haven't read the book being reviewed (*Oreo*) but based on the
review I could imagine the author's word play compared possibly to Philip
Roth; in any case, something seems off, perhaps anachronistic (not
necessarily in any version of linear time or of non-literary time) or from
different cultural vectors, perhaps something else, in calling it


*Quote from paragraph where he's mentioned:*

Ms. Ross takes a cultivated and nearly Nabokovian joy in the English
language. She turns the words “friedan,” as in Betty, and “kuklux” into
verbs. She arrives at the following collective noun: “a rothschild of rich
people.” She bruits the notion of “an emergency semicolon.” Even the puns
click. Oreo is warned to look out for rock outcroppings on her travels
because “Manhattan is full of schist.”

* Full article:*

BOOKS <http://www.nytimes.com/pages/books/index.html>Review: ‘Oreo,’ a
Sandwich-Cookie of a Feminist Comic Novel

JULY 14, 2015
CreditPatricia Wall/The New York Times


Books of The Times


- Email


These sorts of lists have been for too long, to borrow a line from the TV
show “black-ish <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BOTq38k6Aiw>,” whiter than
the inside of Conan O’Brien’s thigh.

“Oreo” might have changed how we thought about a central strand of our
literature’s DNA. As the novelist Danzy Senna
<http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/09/books/review/Matthews-t.html> puts it in
her introduction to this necessary reissue: “ ‘Oreo’ resists the unwritten
conventions that still exist for novels written by black women today.
There’s nothing redemptively uplifting about her work. The title doesn’t
refer to the Bible or the blues. The work does not refer to slavery. The
character is never violated, sexually or otherwise. The characters are not
from the South.”
Fran Ross

CreditAnn Grifalconi/Greyfalcon House

Instead, in “Oreo” Ms. Ross is simply flat-out fearless and funny and sexy
and sublime. It makes a kind of sense that, when this novel didn’t find an
audience, its author moved to Los Angeles in the late 1970s to write for
Richard Pryor.

The first pages of “Oreo” tell you a lot of what you need to know about
this novel’s comic tone and the ways Ms. Ross stirs Yiddish into black
vernacular to barbed effect.

In Paragraph 1, a Jewish boy in Philadelphia informs his mother that he’s
dropping out of school to marry a black girl. His mother “let out a great
geshrei,” Ms. Ross writes, “and dropped dead of a racist/my-son-the-bum

In Paragraph 2, across town, the black girl informs her father she’s
marrying the Jewish boy. He “managed to croak one anti-Semitic ‘Goldberg!’
before he turned to stone, as it were, in his straight-backed chair, his
body a rigid half swastika.” Dad remains a half-swastika’d pretzel for most
of the novel.

With that, this book is off and burning strange American rubber. The couple
has a dark-skinned son they name Moishe. They also have a daughter,
Christine, known as Oreo, who is this novel’s heroine. The book is her
teenage quest, in bumpy parody of the classical odyssey of Theseus, to find
her father, who fled to New York City when she was young.

There’s a good deal of Pam Grier in Oreo. Tired of watching men beat women
with impunity, she develops a system of self-defense she calls “the Way of
the Interstitial Thrust, or WIT.” She deploys WIT in so many ways.

In one scene, on the prowl for her dad, she steals a pimp’s cane and gives
him “a grand-slam clout” across the rear: “If his howl meant anything, it
meant that he was now the only person on the block with four cheeks to sit
on.” She grows pretty fearsome, for a little thing.


Oreo’s mother was an actress, always on the road. The girl largely grew up
with Louise, her maternal grandmother. Louise is a welcome presence in
“Oreo.” Thanks to her, this narrative also slides into an open slot as one
of the great American food novels. Louise is, Ms. Ross writes, “a cook for
the ages” who serves what might best be described as Jewish soul food by
way of both Edna Lewis and Julia Child. Menus are provided.

About what happens when Louise is at the stove, we read: “Five people in
the neighborhood went insane from the bouquets that wafted to them from
Louise’s kitchen. The tongues of two men macerated in the overload from
their salivary glands. Three men and a woman had to be chained up by their

When Oreo hands out some of Louise’s food on a train near Trenton, “groans
and moans were heard amidst all the fressing.” There are spontaneous
orgasms among the eaters. Food provides a lot of this novel’s offbeat
imagery. In one scene Oreo grows so hungry she thinks to herself about
deprivation: “It was what General Mills must go through when Betty Crocker
was in mittelschmerz,” pain from ovulation.

It’s tempting to keep quoting Ms. Ross. Her throwaway lines have more zing
than most comic writers’ studied arias. When Oreo enters a New York City
luncheonette for “a hot-sausage sandwich, a Shabazz bean pie and a Pepsi,”
for example, she finds herself studying the woman behind the counter, who
is reading a magazine.

“Oreo did a double-take. Vogue? She had misjudged the woman. Harper’s
Bazaar, yes; Vogue, no, she would have sworn. Oreo now saw that she had
missed the gaining-circulation squint of the eyes, the condé nast flare of
the nostrils. Oreo was disappointed in herself. It was like mixing up the
Brontës.” These lines sent a flare up my own nostrils.

“Oreo” is acid social criticism, potent because it is lightly worn. One of
the advantages of Philadelphia over New York City, Oreo comments, is that
Philadelphia has “red and white police cars so you can shout, ‘Look out,
the red devil’s coming!’ ” She makes the case that coily hair (she prefers
this phrase to “kinky hair”) is a clear evolutionary improvement over
straight because coily hair keeps your head cool in summer, warm in winter
and protects “from concussions by absorbing the shock of blows to the head.”

Ms. Ross takes a cultivated and nearly Nabokovian joy in the English
language. She turns the words “friedan,” as in Betty, and “kuklux” into
verbs. She arrives at the following collective noun: “a rothschild of rich
people.” She bruits the notion of “an emergency semicolon.” Even the puns
click. Oreo is warned to look out for rock outcroppings on her travels
because “Manhattan is full of schist.”

Ms. Ross, who worked in publishing, wrote for Essence and other magazines
and lived near Zabar’s in the same building as Jules Feiffer, died in 1985
at 50. It’s a great loss that we never got another novel from her.

For this reissue, we owe a debt to Ms. Senna and to the novelist Paul
Beatty, who sang this novel’s praises in his influential anthology “Hokum:
An Anthology of African-American Humor
<http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/22/books/review/22beatty.html>” (2006).

In his introduction to that book, Mr. Beatty wrote about feeling
browbeaten, as a young man, by many canonical works by black writers. He
spoke of missing “the black bon mot, the snap, the bag, the whimsy” upon
which righteous anger and freedom take flight.

“Oreo” has snap and whimsy to burn. It’s a nonstop outbound flight to a
certain kind of readerly bliss. It may have been first published more than
40 years ago, but its time is now.


By Fran Ross

Illustrated. 230 pages. New Directions. $14.95.

A version of this review appears in print on July 15, 2015, on page C1 of
the New York edition with the headline: As American as Knishes

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